Out-of-this world assignment
By Anthony D. Alonzo Post-Tribune correspondent December 4, 2012 2:54PM
Franklin-Luis McDaniel, a sixth-grader at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, sits up in his chair and asks a question to his teachers about the International Space Station. | Anthony D. Alonz~For Sun-Times Media
AT A GLANCE
For more information about Avicenna Academy, call Principal Amanda Arceo at 736-7100, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated: January 6, 2013 9:40AM
For a few moments while sixth-graders from the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology hosted students from Avicenna Academy of Crown Point, an interactive broadcast link with the International Space Station turned the Hammond classroom into a virtual Mission Control.
On Nov. 15, the region students converged on the Hammond charter school, one of two dozen educational communities nationwide selected to connect via Internet with astronauts Kevin Ford and Sunita Williams as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program sponsored by The National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.
Avicenna student Maria Khan sat before a large projection screen that displayed images from inside the ISS, where the two astronauts were floating around. She remained statuesque, focusing on her computer, and then she got the NASA moderator’s call.
“Do you have any down time on a space station, and what do you do with that time?” Khan asked.
With just a few seconds lag time, Indiana-native Kevin Ford answered from his living quarters in orbit — 250 miles above Earth.
“Some of us have little things we like to do in the zero gravity, because we know we won’t be here for long,” Ford said, spinning a model space capsule.
He continued: “Occasionally, I’ll go to the window in the really early morning or the middle of the night to find another astronaut already there looking out because it’s a great way to spend your time, getting really familiar with our beautiful planet.”
Students from the private Crown Point Academy and the entire sixth grade Hammond Academy class required no prompting after the close encounter with working astronauts: they clapped and cheered in excitement.
Hammond Academy science teacher Mira Projovic wasn’t surprised that her students were captivated by the webcast. The school focuses on interaction with professionals beyond the classroom, and that applies to their recent studies about the solar system.
“Our expectations for them are so high,” said Projovic. “They understand not a lot of schools get this opportunity.”
Some of Khan’s classmates talked about their “amazing opportunity” to participate in SSEP, which gives American students the chance to have their experiments observed onboard the space station.
According to Avicenna principal Amanda Arceo, eight of her students were on hand at the Kennedy Space Center in July 2011 to witness Atlantis launch on STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission. The budding scientists said they were disappointed that the three-ship fleet was retired in 2011 — just as the next-step Constellation Program’s development was cancelled, leaving NASA without plans for a reusable launch system for manned spaceflight.
Hammond Academy information technology specialist Brent Fox said everything that made their Internet link-up possible had run flawlessly. And teachers pointed out that with each of the school’s more than 300 students utilizing their own iPad tablet computer, they were well positioned for the future.
A technology fan, Hammond Academy sixth-grader Luis Carlos Barraza said the presentation points him in certain academic and career directions, but he has a world of things to think about.
“I’m not sure what I want to become in the future, so I still have options, decisions to make,” he said.
Arceo said she looks to establish a Northwest Indiana educational consortium that could benefit from science and technology initiatives such as those offered by SSEP.